New Common App Prompts

Essays and Personal Statements

For juniors wise enough to get a jump on essay writing over the summer (HINT – I recommend this!) the Common App has released revised prompts for the personal essay. The new prompts are below, with changes in italics.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Prompts 3 and 5 haven’t changed at all. Prompts 1 and 2 are essentially the same topics, with slightly different wording.

The interesting change is prompt 4. The previous prompt 4 asked students to “describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content,” which encouraged creativity and descriptive language. Students who selected this question often gave beautiful descriptions of their chosen place, but struggled to connect it to THEMSELVES – which is what colleges most want to hear about. And I expect this is the reason the question was removed.

The new prompt 4 is less about description and more about action. It gives the writer an opportunity to describe something they actually did (“a problem you’ve solved”) or something they’d like to do (“a problem you’d like to solve.”) Answering this prompt allows a student to demonstrate problem-solving skills. Interestingly, it’s the only prompt that gives an opportunity to talk about future plans, while all the other prompts focus on past experiences.

The new prompt 4 is a good reminder that admissions officers love students with conviction who aren’t afraid to take action. Beyond grades and scores, they want to know, “What are you going to do with your time on our campus? Are you going to contribute to our community? Are you going to be a decision maker and a problem solver?”

Don’t worry; they aren’t looking for a student who has resolved major a conflict at their school or aims to solve world hunger, which is why the prompt states “anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale.” They would mainly want to see that a student is able to take action on a problem, of any type. It’s a fantastic platform to reveal your convictions and demonstrate your abilities to make decisions.

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